Sylvia Ray Rivera -transgender activist
Sylvia Ray Rivera
Born in New York City in 1951, Ray Rivera became an orphan at the age of 3 after he was abandoned by his father and his mother committed suicide. Rivera was then raised by his grandma, and at his young age he showed a lot of interest in some effeminate behaviors like dress up, which was disapproved by his grandma. As a result, Rivera left away from home and hit the streets of New York when he was only 10 years old, joining the transvestite prostitute of the early 1960s. About Rivera’s gender, his physiological gender is male, but he considered himself as a transgender, so he changed his name to Sylvia Rivera.
In terms of what she wanted, it reconnects to Rivera’s experiences of fighting against drugs, alcohol abuse and living in homosexual homeless community. Apparently, Rivera’s suffering made her show sympathy for the homosexuals /bisexuals and transgender groups. The early 1960s was a nightmare for them, she said “Near the bottom of the social hierarchy, the street queens risked violence at the hands of each other, their customers, police, and the threat of arrest and prison time always loomed”. From then on, Rivera used her own strength to give her community power, she wanted to fight for herself but more importantly the most unprotected marginal people, which includes “transgender people, low income drag queens and also homeless teenagers.” Suffering from poverty and prejudice, Sylvia Rivera decided to form a united group by sharing her own painful and struggling experiences, to show that they are not alone, they are fighting alongside.
As for how she fought for it, firstly we have to mention the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. In the early morning on June 28, when New York police raid on the inn and tried to take away some customers, there were many people gathered outside the inn. And as a patron, Sylvia Rivera was one of the members in the crowd, they threw bottles and other objects to the police. In a later interview, she said “The people at the bars, especially at the Stonewall, were involved in other movements and everybody just like, alright, we gotta’ do our thing.” These resistance actions triggered a sudden riot and protest, which marked the US contemporary LGBT liberation movement. One year later, Rivera and her friend Johnson established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolution) to strive for transgender rights. The organization is committed to the prohibition of various kinds of sexual discrimination, it provids shelter for homeless transvestites and forging a vehicle for transvestite militancy. Apart from that, as people at the leading edge of the movement, Rivera also devoted herself to giving some speeches on behalf of STAR, these speeches are mainly about about “the Stonewall Uprising or the necessity of solidarity between transgender people”. By the late 1990s, she had returned to New York, defending queer teenagers from their shelter beneath the city’s abandoned piers and advocating for what had come to be framed as transgender rights.
The answer for ‘Did she get it’ is yes, in some ways, Rivera had ignited the contemporary lesbian and gay rights movement. She was the pioneer who got “T” into LGBT ——the definition of gender was expanded in NYC Human Rights Law in 2002, which includes protections for “trans and gender-different people”. Although the situation was improved, transgender people were still facing issues of prejudice, and had critical needs for legal assistance. At the same year of 2002, a law project was set up and named for Sylvia Rivera, which is called Sylvia Rivera Law Project. By focusing on “issues of poverty and racism”, the SRLP works to continue Sylvia’s work, it’s a legal organization that provides free services to transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people who are low-income or are people of color. One of the clients of SRLP said the lawyers “will stand up for your rights, help you prove you are entitled and here you don’t have to worry. You can feel normal.” Those legal assistance seeks to ensure that all individuals are free to determine their gender identity, and can live their truth without shame and terror, regardless of issues of income or racial differences. In order to memorize Sylvia Rivera’s fight for injustice, there is a global vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance on every November 20.
About the factors and background that led to Sylvia Rivera’s resistances or actions came up, I think it’s related to the atmosphere of freedom, democracy and the inequality that happened at that period. In the late 1960s, many social movements appeared, including the black civil rights movement, anti-war actions. These background factors of the citizens’ democratic consciousness, coupled with the atmosphere of freedom in Greenwich Village, have become causes of the Stonewall Uprising. And the reasons why Sylvia Rivera launched the STAR accounted for the inequality disparate treatment faced by transgender groups. In 1970s, she was angry and disappointed at the leaders of the mainstream gay rights movement, who were willing to cater to social legitimacy instead of supporting transgender rights, maintaining equality, fairness. (Q&A)